About Eleanor File, Founder of Watercolour New Zealand

Biographical Information

Eleanor Alice File was born in Auckland New Zealand, on 26 December 1918.

She studied art at The Elam School of Art in Auckland. She was a member of the Wellington Art Club but then founded the Wellington Watercolour Society out of frustration that the club members were not interested in watercolours.

She exhibited frequently at the Kelliher Art Award held in Auckland between 1956 and 1977, in which entrants were encouraged to “paint the visible aspect of New Zealand’s landscape and coastal scenes in a realistic and traditional way”.

She was prolific on her ooutput and painted at a rate of two or more works per week over a long period.
Eleanor File died at Pakuranga, Auckland on 27 September 2009, aged 91.

On 27 May 1975, a keen watercolourist held a meeting at her house in Wellington attended by 17 fellow artists. This was the inception of the society we are today. Her son, Tony File, tells us about the strong character of his mother:

Born and raised in Auckland, Eleanor File studied at the Elam School of Arts and later Wellington Technical College, where as a young commercial artist she learned to draw. She married and raised a family of boys, living in Hawkes Bay for ten years.

Eventually the family returned to Wellington and she resumed her first love, the art world and became a long-standing committee member of the Wellington Art Club. At this time she learned to paint in oils, particularly portraits and life drawings. She studied with many notable artists and exhibited in clubs and galleries including the Academy of Fine Arts. Her interests turned to watercolour and she became utterly captivated by the medium. Disturbed by the lack of a specialist backing group for watercolour painters she founded the Wellington Society of Water Colour Artists, now Watercolour New Zealand.

In 1980 she returned to Auckland where she joined the Fellowship of Artists and other art groups, making many friends. She taught painting in the private studio she built on to her home in Pakuranga as well as taking posts at several schools, teaching mostly night classes for adults. Although a prolific oil painter, her first love remained watercolour. She travelled extensively in New Zealand, seeking out the worlds’ most picturesque scenery to reproduce at the tip of her brush.

As far back as I can remember, mother always had a pencil or paint brush in her hand and a sketch pad ready to record anything that attracted her attention. She noticed everything. For her, life was creativity. She saw beauty in everything. Style, line, form and above all, COLOUR dominated her life. She would undertake anything that involved creativity. An accomplished milliner, she also sewed our clothes. I recall the time our old lounge suite collapsed. Mum went to night classes, learned how to do wood-work and upholstery, then built a four-piece lounge suite from frame to finished product. We had that suite for many years.

As a person, she had what we in the family used to call an “artistic temperament”. She was single minded to the point of sometimes being bloody minded. Her fights with bus drivers became the stuff of legend in the family. Why she rubbed bus drivers up the wrong way I could never understand. I used to say that mum would never get lost because someone would always tell her where to get off!

Mother was a complex character; she had so many different sides to her nature that you were never quite sure what you were going to get. Her talent was undeniable and her skills simply immense. She loved cats and kittens but seriously disliked dogs and puppies. She had no time for false attitudes and pretension… and no tolerance whatsoever for fools. However, if you went to her with a problem she would immediately stand up to see what could be done to solve it.

She was an absolute fanatic on the subject of New Zealand arts and crafts, believing that an economy based on the arts and crafts ethic would be the saviour of our people and nation. To that end she lobbied MP’s ceaselessly, seeking a major shift in policy from any government to get a better deal for artists. That was mum.

Tony File (Eldest son)

"Remuera House" by Eleanor File

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